"A race doesn't define you - it's just another opportunity to get better as a person and an athlete."
Ella Anschutz sees every race as an opportunity to prove hard work pays off. Following a year of remarkable success, we caught up with 2023's Division 1 cross country and 1600 meter run state champ to reflect on seasons past and look to seasons ahead.
I. The Beginning | II. Reflections: 2023 Track & Field | III. Reflections: 2023 Cross Country | IV. Resolutions: Looking Ahead to 2024
I. The Beginning:
How did you get started with running? Is there a story behind that at all?
Our middle school had a cross country team, so I started running in fifth grade. I joined the team and I did that throughout middle school. I wasn't super serious about it at the time, I just did it for fun and enjoyed it, and then it just kind of took off and I started to do well in races. I remember my first race in middle school, in fifth grade. I got top 10 so that was pretty cool. So I was like oh, this is awesome, and I just kind of kept doing it. I decided that I wanted to keep running in high school and see what I could do with it.
I played soccer for a super long time, so I never knew for sure whether I wanted to do track or soccer in the Spring of high school, and so when I started doing really well in cross country in middle school, up until like eighth grade, that's when I kind of decided I wanted to take it seriously throughout high school and do cross country and track.
I know that soccer/track split is a huge issue for a lot of athletes, was there a pivotal moment when you knew for sure?
In seventh or eighth grade, I remember running at the Grade School Challenge, which was kind of the biggest meet of the season. I did well in that and our team did really well. That's when I decided I really wanted to keep doing this. I really enjoyed it a lot and I knew that I would enjoy it a lot more than soccer.
For soccer, the thing I loved about it most was probably the running because we sprint on the field, so I knew I would still be able to do that, and I knew it would make me happier in the end.
So then you hit your freshman year of cross country and you have a lot of success there, with a team title, and top 10 individual finish at state. Starting out that freshman year, you had a really linear progression with improvements place-wise and time-wise. How did you approach that season?
The summer before freshman year is when I fully started training for cross country. My goal was just to do well on the team. I wanted to make varsity and hopefully get the chance to run at State. Those were my main goals, and I remember my first race I ran really well. I think I got top 15 in the varsity race, so that was really cool.
At the start of my freshman cross country season, I was injured for a few weeks. I wasn't able to run the first race, so that was kind of disappointing, but even after that I just kept going at it. I ran my first race early in the season and I did really well. From then it just kind of kept going. I kept getting better and I think I got a lot more comfortable with racing high school races - I think that also helped and allowed me to get better.
I gained a lot more confidence throughout the season, just being that our team did so well and there were so many talented girls. I think boosting my confidence and those girls helping me throughout the races really helped. They were able to help me pace and help me learn how to race my best. Over the season I learned how to do better and just kept progressing. It was really cool to see my work over the summer come together.
I remember doing really well at Sectionals and Conference - those were my two breakout races. I PR'd a ton - by like a minute at Conference, and that's when our team won Conference. Then I was able to win Sectionals, which was pretty awesome coming into State. I had a lot of momentum to help me do well.
Your team did really well at State that year. What was it like stepping into this established, super successful team as a freshman, and then actually leading them to that title?
It was really really special, just because there have been so many amazing girls who have run at Muskego. I just wanted to live up to that and do the best that I could. For our team to win the title my freshman year - it was amazing, it was unbelievable, and it was super cool because there were so many amazing seniors on the team.
We lost a lot of seniors but it was cool to have a bunch of senior girls who kind of took me under their wing as a freshman. It was cool knowing that I was able to be one of those girls who won State.
That's an incredible way to end your freshman year - is there one moment from that season that stands out to you the most?
Seeing my teammates after the finish line at State. I remember we all went up to each other and were standing in front of the board. I had gotten top-10 which was crazy. I never thought I would've gotten that as a freshman at State. We were just kind of waiting to see if we actually won because we didn't know if we did. We just watched the board and it was counting down all of the places for teams, and then it kept going down until we saw that we won.
Everyone went crazy, so it was just really cool to be able to do that with everyone around - all of our families and friends.
II. Reflections: 2023 Track & Field
So you have that success your freshman year in cross country, but stepping into 2023 and the track season, what's the first thing that comes to mind about what that year meant for your running career?
The WiscoMile was the first race I did. It was kind of a fun race during winter training, just to see what I could do. That was at the Pettit Center on the indoor track. I did really well and ran a super fast mile, I was so surprised with my time. It was cool to see that it was probably going to be a good track season and I'd hopefully continue to progress. Winter was the first time I got good training in, so I think that also really helped. But after seeing the time I ran at [the WiscoMile], it was really cool to see how much progression I would be able to make.
I know in Wisconsin we have a pretty limited indoor season, but what was that first indoor season like for you?
I had never really done indoor track before. I had done track in middle school, but that was just outdoor track and it was for fun, and so I didn't really know what to expect. It's a lot different than outdoor, but it's cool just to see where you're at after winter training. It was great to see my training had done well over the winter. Indoor track is a lot harder than outdoor track, but it was cool to just progress into high school track and do well there.
So once you hit outdoor, you ran races spanning from the 3200M, even down to the 400M, where you even hit 60 flat which is pretty good. Did you have a good idea of which races you wanted to focus and dial in on heading into outdoor, or was it kind of experimental?
I think it was kind of experimental. My coaches really wanted to see where I could do best and I ended up racing anywhere from the 400 to the 3200, it was kind of different every meet. But I had a lot of fun with it - I like doing a lot of fast-speed races, but then it was also fun to get to do the 3200. It mixed everything up which made things really fun, I was able to do a lot of different races.
It was just a lot of experimenting and I was able to do pretty well in a lot of the races. More towards the end, I wanted to focus on the 3200 and 1600, and then I ended up running the 4x800 with my team at state. It was really cool to try all the races and experiment with everything and see what I would be best at overall.
My favorite race in track is probably the 1600. I just feel like it's kind of in the middle. It's fast enough but it's a long enough race, so it's a good mix of everything.
And clearly you found a bit of a stride in that race, going undefeated into State before earning that title, why is that a special race to you?
I like to have a lot of speed, and I also have a lot of endurance, so I think I'm able to do well at that race. It takes a lot of speed, but it also takes a certain amount of endurance to be able to do well in it. It's just fast enough where it's really fun but it's also long enough that you need to be smart about how you race it, and know how to race it tactically.
Heading into State, you're running against some pretty experienced runners at that distance. What was your strategy and what did it take as a freshman to line up at the start and take the lead?
I would definitely say it's really nerve-wracking, just because there were so many amazing girls I was racing against. So many of them had done so well and had so much experience - there were a lot of great juniors and seniors. I didn't really put too much pressure on myself because I would've been proud of myself no matter what I got. Just being a freshman up at that line was enough for me and so I think it was just being proud of what I had already accomplished, and taking that as my momentum into the race, and having the idea that I had nothing to lose. Whether I got first or whatever place I got, it was still amazing to be racing against those girls.
For the mile at state, I wasn't leading the race at all - I was around the middle for most of it, and I just kind of felt amazing. I felt so good and I was like, might as well go for it, and so the second half is when I really started to take off in the race. For the last 800 meters, I just kept picking up the speed and at the end I was able to pass the other girls in the lead. So that was really cool, just because of my kick I was able to win. I wasn't leading the race for much of it, but when I was - that's when it mattered. So I kind of had that idea that I had nothing to lose and I was really proud of what I accomplished. But anything that I would've done, I would've been proud of.
It sounds like the timing was right with your speed at the end, which definitely played a part in that win. How did the atmosphere play into your race?
It's a super cool atmosphere, it definitely is really nerve-wracking because there are so many people watching you race and I wasn't used to that. It's a lot different from cross country, because in cross country the spectators are throughout the race and there are not as many people watching you, but in track everyone is watching you at once. But it's also really really cool because it was so loud - and I think the crowd really got me to go at the end. I remember hearing the crowd go crazy, and I think it just allowed me to go even faster and sprint at the end. It was really cool just to see everyone there watching me and seeing such a special moment in my life. It definitely is nerve-wracking but it's worth it.
III. Reflections: 2023 Cross Country
So you close your season with that win, but you're right back to training in the summer, what did that look like?
I felt really good throughout the summer, my training went really well. I was just excited for cross country again. Even though we had lost a lot of girls and there weren't a lot of girls to run with, I was still really excited. Cross country's probably my favorite season. It's really fun to train in the summer and just look forward to it. I trained well throughout the summer - I was consistent and it all worked really well, so I was excited coming into cross country. After track, I had a lot of confidence and I was really really excited for it.
So you were able to carry a lot of that momentum into the season, even if the team looked a little different than it did the previous year. Coming off of the team title in 2022 and the top 10 finish individually, what did you want to accomplish into the season?
I just wanted to overall grow as a person and a runner, and just enjoy running as much as I could. I really wanted to get my time down because I knew I had a lot more in me. After seeing the times I ran in track I wanted to be able to run a faster 5K, so that was one of my bigger goals, and then just to race against good competition when I can and do the best I can in races.
Early in the season, you had an early matchup with some of the best runners in the state at the PT Timing Night Race - including the defending D1 state champ. When you finished up in the top 3 with that group, did that give you some confidence or indication that you can really run with those girls?
It was early in the season so I didn't really have any expectations for myself. At that point, state was so far away, so where I was at the start of the season wouldn't predict where I'd be at the end of the season. If I was able to beat them that would be great, but if I wasn't, I wasn't disappointed at all because I knew I would still be able to do well at state. I just kind of tried to keep up with them, and they did really well. I didn't run as fast as them, but I was getting ready for state. It was really cool to be able to run against them and then be able to run against them again at the end of the season. It showed me where I was at and what I can improve on to do my best at state. At a lot of the races there's not a ton of competition, so to be able to have some really good girls to match up against - especially so early in the season - it was really really cool.
From there I think you pretty much had first-place finishes up until state with that title, but throughout that, how did you stay competitive and stay motivated?
For me, it was thinking - in the end, will all of my hard work pay off? I work really hard now, it'll pay off at some point. I just think of what I can accomplish and what I have accomplished when I've worked hard, and that's what keeps me going through the races. Especially when there aren't a lot of girls to train against, it's just the moment when you cross the finish line knowing you gave it your all - I think that is really special too, so I just kept looking to the future. Even if there isn't a ton of competition, if I do my best and put my best effort out there, it'll work in the end and it'll pay off in the end.
And you did finish with that title - and on a really tough course, you kind of broke through time-wise finishing in 18-flat.
Yeah, it's really really cool. I'm more of a hilly course person - I love hills, that's like my favorite workout. It's kind of my strength. A lot of people do not like the state course, and even my freshman year it was definitely really difficult - it's like no other. I think being able to run it my freshman year and learn from it helped me - and how I ran it too, really helped me. I didn't try to go out in the lead, I just kind of worked my way up. Even though there are a ton of hills in the end, that's kind of where I pushed it a lot, and so I think I just found my strengths and used them to my advantage. I PR'd at state and it was a super difficult course.
I think what allowed me to do really well time-wise and place-wise was just the amount of girls competing too - the competition really helped me. I feel like it's a lot easier to run fast times on especially difficult courses when you have a lot of girls competing against you who are really good. It was cool to get close to breaking 18:00, and get a PR on the state course which isn't usually normal. That left the end of my season really awesome. I was super proud of being able to do that.
Was there a pivotal moment in that race when you really started going for it? You said you were moving up throughout the race, but was there a time or a point that you decided to just go for it?
I would definitely say after the second mile was when I just kind of let loose and went for it. The first and second mile, I was kind of patient and didn't go for it too early just because the hills are at the end of the race. I kind of waited until the end of the race because that's when most people get tired and die out - and so that was when I was hopefully going to be able to use my strength.
After the second mile - the last mile - I just kind of went for it. I felt really good, and so I was like I have nothing to lose whether I get up to first or don't. I felt amazing so I thought might as well go for it. And I just kept working my way up. The last 800 especially - that's when I kind of went for it. It was super fast but I just felt amazing and I went for it and it worked. After the second mile, I definitely just felt like if I don't speed up now, I'm going to regret it. And so I just went for it, and it was cool.
Describe the feeling when you crossed the finish in first:
It was amazing. I think being able to win the cross country state title is like no other. In track, there are a lot of races that you can win, but in cross country there's only one race. To be able to come out in first, knowing I ran the race the best I could, and especially after seeing my time - it was really really cool. It just felt amazing and I was so proud of myself.
IV. Resolutions: Looking Ahead to 2024
As we come to the close of the year and reflect on your accomplishments, what's the biggest thing you've learned or achieved?
The biggest thing I've learned is just to keep working hard, and that hard work pays off. Even though it's cold in the winter and you don't want to go running - I think just getting a start at the run, working hard, and being consistent every day has really helped me. I have a lot of motivation to work hard because I've seen my accomplishments, and so I think it's just the consistency and the hard work I put in every day.
What I'm most proud of probably is winning state cross country. It was just so special, and it's amazing and I'm just so proud of it, so yeah it was really cool.
Even though you're still in the first half of your cross country career, what would you like to accomplish as you step into a more senior role on your team?
I would definitely say to be a good leader for other girls and to help other girls like the seniors did for me when I was a freshman. I just kind of want to be the girl who's a leader on the team and can take younger girls under her wing. The seniors when I came in as a freshman were amazing, and were such amazing girls to run with. I think being a great leader on the team to other girls and hopefully being able to do well as a team would be my biggest goal as a team, and then individually, just try to keep winning as many races as possible and get my times down.
For 2024, if you had to set a resolution for yourself as a runner or personally, what do you think that would be?
Probably just to keep consistent with running every day and keep myself accountable. The consistency is what allows me to accomplish what I do. Even when I don't want to run, I think being consistent is my biggest goal - just being able to get out every day.
Are there any motivators or role models that you've looked up to through all of this?
Probably my parents and my siblings - definitely. They're so supportive and they've really helped me and supported me throughout the season. They don't ever expect anything out of me, they're just proud of me for what I accomplish which is amazing. Having my older brother on the team as a leader is super cool too - just being able to look up to him. And having my parents and my brothers as great moral models - they're just so supportive and so amazing.
Getting into the more personal side of it at the end, are you the kind of person who gets super nervous before races, or do you walk into them confidently?
I definitely do get nervous before my races, but I also stay pretty confident. I try to be as confident as possible, knowing it's just another race. A race doesn't define you, it's just another opportunity to get better as a person and as an athlete. It's a little bit of both, but I think it's really cool to race. Even though it is nerve-wracking, it's really exciting because it shows your hard work really does pay off. I think in the end it's definitely worth it.
When you step away from the track and you're not running, what are you doing?
I definitely like to spend time with my family. We live on a lake so I love to water ski. I slalom ski in the summers which is really fun, and then I also like to snow ski in the winter, bike, and do outdoor activities with my family.
Any final words?
I'm so happy and it's just been amazing to be able to do the things that I can do.